The drinkers are happy! (For the time being.)
The thing is, this is probably as good as it's going to get for the category of full-flavored beer. As the market gets tighter, breweries will fail. There will be fewer independent brewers large enough to compete for the mainstream supermarket shelf space. At the same time, they'll struggle to compete with smaller, more nimble craft brewers in on-premise taprooms, and specialty beer bars/shops. "They're kinda getting squeezed from both sides," says Steinman.
When those big-ish regional craft brewers start dropping, acquired breweries will represent access to -- and define the perception of -- premium "craft" beer for most of the country's drinkers, who are hardly as discriminating as some Dark Lord-hoarder in a basement thumbing through RateBeer. At which point, an acquirer could, theoretically, just sorta make it… less premium.
This concern usually comes up when the buyout money is from private equity, thanks to that industry's reputation for slashing costs and bailing when growth slows, but can apply to strategic partners, too. Independence has allowed craft brewers to stand as a bulwark against a quality slide, says Jim Koch, co-founder of Sam Adams and chairman of Boston Beer Company. (Though the company is publicly traded, Koch holds all its voting shares and remains in control.) "In a very practical sense," he tells Thrillist, it comes down to a simple question: "Do we use more-expensive hops and make less money, or do we use less-expensive hops and make more money?"